Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard life referred to as a card game:
“You play the hand you’re dealt.”
“When life gives you a bad hand, play it the best you can.”
“Keep your cards close to your chest.”
“She hold's all the cards."
The metaphor is beyond tired, but the basic idea is still sound, and it goes something like this: everyone gets a set of advantages and disadvantages in life. How we work with them and how we deal with the good and the bad determines … well … everything.
This week, the dealer handed me a crummy hand. I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say, I haven’t seen a hand this bad in a while. This is when all the time I’ve spent meditating, every carb I haven’t eaten, every cup of caffeinated coffee I desperately wanted but refused, every drop of alcohol I didn’t drink, and every sugary snack I rejected — all of them are supposed to kick in like a super power. There should be no emotional turmoil, no racing heart beat, no sadness and most certainly no tears. There should just be crazy awesome zen.
So, why am I on the couch staring at a wall with my body curled around a tissue box like a boa constrictor?
That’s because no amount of controlling one’s diet, exercise, or any other healthy habit can substitute for the resilience that comes from playing a bad hand over and over again. That’s why so many people who have gone through truly difficult trials emerge so much stronger than those who haven’t. Eventually, you learn to keep your eyebrows level, your breathing even, and your eyes placid like an untouched lake. You learn that this is one hand of many you will be dealt in your life, not the entirety of the game. If you just play through it and don’t give any tells, it might come out alright. Because “every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser”.
Does it help to eat right and take care of yourself when the dealer’s giving you nothing but aces? Sure. It’s always easier to suffer a loss after you’ve put in the effort to play your good hands well. But it’s not about what you lose; it’s about how you lose it. When I used to get bad hands, it would take me months to recover. I’d be on my heels emotionally for months. To take a hit — whether it’s to your heart, your ego, or your wallet — means looking back to the hits you’ve taken before, how you handled them, and what you can do to make your recovery time even shorter the next time around.
One thing I’m still learning how not to do is stack my bad hands on top of one another. When I see a bad hand in front of me, it morphs into every bad hand I’ve ever been dealt. I forget any of the good hands I was dealt, and am consumed with the idea that all I’ve been dealt are bad hands, and all I’ll ever be dealt are bad hands. This is a lie. Nevertheless, my mind slips into a self pity, and before I know it, I’m burning a hole in the wall with my eyes.
The one thing that has helped me shorten my emotional downward spiral is looking outward. The cosmic dealer doesn’t set out to give me a bad hand, they just deal the cards out. It’s not about me. So, there’s no reason for me to react emotionally about what’s happening other than in a way that serves me. Curiosity, optimism, and humor all serve me. Despondence, self-pity, and bitterness don’t serve me. Those emotions won’t change the cards, they’ll just make me choke the tissue box harder, and I may make matters worse by playing a bad hand badly, as opposed to playing it well.
In the end, I get to determine my emotional response, not other people. I get to choose whether I hold ‘em, fold ‘em, walk away or run.